RANDOM THOUGHTS: Education and Technology (Part II) - BY: Dr. A.Q. Khan

Education and Technology
Part II
Dr. A.Q. Khan


In continuation of Part I of last week, the deliberation is continued. In the first instance, economic prosperity evaded the Third World, which was manipulated by the West to restrict itself to the production of primary commodities. Since the demand for primary commodities is extremely elastic, the developed countries were free to impose an international system of tariffs and quotas that ensured the terms of trade would be perpetually unfavourable to developing countries. Concomitantly, the latter were neither able to generate sufficient capital to industrialize at a viable pace and manner, nor to develop a technology comparable to the West. This was a deliberate policy instated by the developed countries to ensure that developing countries would not be able to compete with the economies of the developed nations. The Muslim World was thus reduced to a position of having to depend on external aid and of importing technology and armaments, which became a drain on the tattered economies of most of these countries. Even where enormous revenues were later indigenously generated, as in the oil producing countries, political subservience to the West prevented them from developing a viable industrial and technological infrastructure. Finally, the conditions imposed by donor agencies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, are not necessarily conducive to economic and technical development in Third World countries. A brief delineation of the situation Muslim countries will corroborate the preceding analysis. Although the Muslim World contributes 60% of the world’s crude oil, 40% natural gas, 80% rubber and 75% jute, these commodities collectively constitute just over 50% of world trade. The combined GNP of all the Muslim states was about U.S.$ 1.1 trillion (when data was last available), while that of France alone is US$ 1.5 trillion. This reflects the Muslim World’s lack of scientific and technological expertise as this is a prerequisite to converting its raw materials into competitive finished products. State education, which is one of the essential indices of development, highlights the disparities between the developed world and Muslim countries, where approximately half the school going population aged 5 – 19 years, and more than three quarters of the adult population, is bereft of formal schooling.

Despite much rhetoric, higher education, particularly in science and technology, has been criminally neglected. Compared to an estimated 50,000 scientists and engineers working in the entire Muslim World, there are 35,000 in Israel and 400,000 in Japan. Thus, in the Muslim World, there are only 100 scientists and technologists per million population compared to 3,000 in the developed world.

A survey conducted in the USA some time ago showed, on the basis of research papers published in world class periodicals, that the US ranked first, India eighth and Israel fifteenth. None of the Muslim countries deserved even a mention as their collective contribution was dismally low.

That the impact of imperialism and neo-colonialism has distorted and delayed development in the Third World is an irrefutable fact. However, after more than half a century of independence, the Muslim countries cannot continue to ascribe their relative backwardness to historical factors or the stranglehold of the developed world on the international economic/military situation. This claim has been counterproductive and also ignores internal developments within Muslim countries. Independent of non-indigenous factors, this attitude has also acted against the acceleration of scientific research and technical expertise. Certainly then, we must do what we can and the following suggestions are necessary to achieve some degree of literary and scientific respectability.

Firstly, literacy must be increased. It is true that some countries have a high literacy rate – Malaysia with 80% and Jordan with 90%. On the other hand, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have a literacy rate of a mere 40%. It is imperative that such states strive for an optimum literacy rate. Priorities have to be reset and higher allocations made for education. In Pakistan, for example, less than 4% of the GDP is earmarked for education. Simply because the returns are not immediate, a lower priority is assigned to education and specifically, science and technology. In other words, long term national interests are all too often sacrificed for short-term political expediencies.

Secondly, a critical mass to provide the reservoir for specialization cannot be built up in science and technology without an equal emphasis on the qualitative aspect. Far greater effort must be put in the teaching of science and scientific research. To encourage initiative and innovation in the scientific and technological sphere, financial support for science and scientists is imperative. India, for example, with its much larger GNP compared to Pakistan, allocates around 1% for research and development and has quadrupled the salaries of its academics.

Thirdly, even where paucity of funds is not a prime factor, for example in Saudi Arabia, there appears a lack of commitment to the development of forefront scientific research and technology. Statistics indicate that within a single year, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have spent more than about US$ 15 billion on military imports. This is an example that indicates that Muslim countries must establish long term priorities and display a more resolute will to develop scientific and technological expertise to withstand the external pressures that reduce them into dumping grounds for second rate imports from the developed world. In general, Muslim scientists do not, on an extensive enough scale, have access to cutting-edge scientific research and state-of-the-art technology. There must also be a greater demand for the transfer of advanced technology as opposed to the acceptance of turnkey projects. Therefore, collaboration between competent Muslim scientists and their counterparts in the developed countries must be increased and adequately supported financially.

In Pakistan, lessons have to be learnt from instances where there was the political will, financial support, competent group effort and uncompromising scientific leadership. Pioneering success in the indigenous enrichment of fissile material and missile technology brought Pakistan to the forefront of the Muslim World in 1998. Sadly enough, those in financial charge in our country have never allocated enough money for science and technology and it has always been given a low priority. We must mobilize the political will, the integrity, honesty and adequate financial resources to overcome our present sorry state of affairs. For that we need technocrats who understand the importance of technology.

Posted on Nov 20, 17 | 11:48 pm